A story by Lydia Polgreen in today’s NY Times discusses a plant used in Mali as a form of fencing that turns out to be “a potentially ideal source of biofuel, a plant that can grow in marginal soil or beside food crops, that does not require a lot of fertilizer and yields many times as much biofuel per acre planted as corn and many other potential biofuels.” It will be great if it turns out to save the world, but as you will understand, my main concern is with its peculiar name, of whose pronunciation and origin the story gives no clue, except to say that it “originated in Central America and is believed to have been spread around the world by Portuguese explorers.” Some sort of Indian language, then? It wasn’t in the OED (tsk), but I found it in Webster’s Third New International: it’s pronounced JAT-ruh-fuh. And the etymology? That’s so surprising (and yet obvious, once you know) I’m placing it below the cut, so you can speculate unhindered before checking.
Meanwhile, I’ll entertain you with an odd entry I found in the OED while looking fruitlessly for this word:
A term of reproach.
1340-70 Alex. & Dind. 659 Þe iaudewin iubiter ioiful ȝe holde, For he was wraþful i-wrouht & wried in angur. c1362 Durham Acc. Rolls (Surtees) 565 Cuidam Istrioni Jestour Jawdewyne in festo Natalis D’ni, 3s. 4d. 1401 Pol. Poems (Rolls) II. 86 Thou jawdewine, thow jangeler, how stande this togider.
“Thou jawdewin” has a ring to it, doesn’t it? I may have to adopt it. (But why do they show it as two words when all the citations have it as one?)
OK, give up? Here’s the etymology:
Greek iatros ‘physician’ + trophē ‘nourishment.’ It’s originally a New Latin genus name, so Webster’s wants you to capitalize it: Jatropha. But I think we’re past that, now that it’s a world-saving wonder weed.